PITTSBURGH — Ike Taylor knows the days when he can pull his No. 24 Pittsburgh Steelers jersey over his shoulders and go to work are dwindling.
The 34-year-old cornerback might be the self-appointed king of "swag," but he's also a realist. When the Steelers approached him about taking a pay cut or being released for salary cap purposes, Taylor practically scrambled to grab a pen, even though it means he'll make barely a third of the $7 million he was originally scheduled to earn in 2014 under his previous deal.
"You have to decide if you're going to put your pride aside when that time comes, and that time came," Taylor said Tuesday after joining his teammates for organized team activities. "Millions is millions no matter how you look at it, and that's how I look at it."
Besides, the view is still pretty sweet. There aren't too many fourth-round picks who stick around for more than a decade, and even fewer who have played one of the game's most demanding positions with Taylor's consistency.
Never blessed with anything remotely resembling soft hands — which explains why he has just 14 interceptions in 11 seasons — Taylor has built a reputation and a career out of decent speed, good instincts and even better tackling. Those traits failed him at times in 2013, a year he describes as just "so-so" and one in which he lost his spot as Pittsburgh's No. 1 cornerback to Cortez Allen.
Yet the Steelers feel Taylor has enough left that there's no need to launch a search for an immediate replacement. They drafted Shaquille Richardson out of Arizona in the fifth round, and while Taylor praised the rookie's attitude, he also understands it takes at least one season, if not more, before a cornerback makes the leap required to thrive in Dick LeBeau's intricate 3-4 defense.
The best Taylor figures to do is fend off the future for at least one more season. Pressed on if he believes this is his last fall in Pittsburgh, he just smiles.
"I'm going to try to be the best teammate and going to be the best everything for this team and let the chips fall where they fall," he said.
Last season, Taylor found himself no longer following the opposing team's best receiver all over the field. Instead, he spent most of December relegated to one side, while Allen often drew the toughest assignment. It wasn't something Taylor took personally. Allen had the breakout season the Steelers were counting on. The fact it coincided with a small slip in Taylor's play turned out to be coincidental.
Taylor insists he and Allen are still 1A and 1B, Allen serving as "Batman" to Taylor's "Joker," with nickelback William Gay playing "Robin." Maybe, but the trio understand they need to get their hands on a few more passes in 2014 to help the Steelers break out of their current bout with mediocrity. Pittsburgh has just 20 interceptions over the last two seasons, both of which ended with 8-8 records and a spot on the couch during the playoffs.
At the moment, Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu are the only two players atop the defensive depth chart in their 30s, as the Steelers try to get younger and faster. While Polamalu remains the lone holdout from OTAs — as is his custom — Taylor joked he's not worried about the 33-year-old's preparation.
"He's probably somewhere up in the mountains with the monks praying," Taylor said, tongue firmly in cheek. "So, you've got to let Troy be Troy, but when he comes back he'll be Jesus on the field."
Taylor is kidding, of course, though he understands that even as the Steelers prepare for life without him, he and the lingering graybeards can play a significant role on a team at the end of a youth movement.
"I've got to have the energy, have the mindset to lead the young guys," he said. "They don't know what it takes to make the playoffs. They don't know what it takes to win Super Bowls. But I do, and we have a few guys left who do."
NOTES: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was excused from practice for personal reasons. ... Third-round pick Dri Archer joined his teammates on the field Tuesday for the first time during OTAs. Archer took part of the NFL rookie symposium last week.